Emma Bell, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral research fellow
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto, Canada
Dr. Emma Bell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada. As a bioinformatician, they combine biology, statistics, and information engineering, to ask biologically and clinically meaningful questions of genomics data. They aim to improve gynaecological healthcare outcomes for women, non-binary and trans people. Dr. Bell believes a scientist's responsibility to society extends beyond the walls of their lab. Thus, they seek out opportunities to engage with those outside academia.
Dr. Bell's research aims to improve outcomes in gynaecological healthcare for women, non-binary and trans people. As a bioinformatician they combine biology, statistics, and information engineering, to derive biologically and clinically meaningful patterns from genomics data. Their work divides into three key areas of interest and expertise: epigenetics, cancer biology, and bioinformatics.
Epigenetics is a collection mechanisms by which cells control the organisation and activity of our DNA. If genetics is the words on a page, epigenetics is the grammar influencing the meaning and delivery of that text. Each cell type within our bodies has its own unique epignetic profile. This ensures the cell expresses the right genes, at the right times, in the right amounts. When a cell becomes cancerous, it takes on a distinctive epigenetic profile. Dr. Bell uses epigenetic profiling to understand what's driving a cell's behaviour and how that changes during a cell-state transition (e.g. oncogenesis).
Cancer Research U.K. estimates that 38% of cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes. If clinicians could identify patients at risk, they could intervene to reduce their likelihood of developing cancer. The earlier clinicians can diagnose cancer, the better a patient's chances of long-term survival. Gynaecological cancers tend to have vague symptoms, easily misattributed to more common, less serious conditions. Thus, by the time many patients receive their diagnosis, the cancer is at an advanced stage. Effective screening tools would improve rates of early diagnosis. Dr. Bell's work aims to improve how we evaluate the risk of and screen for cancer.
Bioinformatics is the application of maths, statistics, computing, and information engineering to biological data. These skills are vital to working large-scale data sets, for example DNA sequencing. Dr. Bell develops bespoke data processing software to analyse genomics data. This allows them to elucidate biologically informative patterns within heterogeneous data.